Odds and probability are not the same thing

June 18, 2013 3:00 AM
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Roulette wheel las vegas nevada casino playing roulette at the casinoThis morning I was watching the “Dan Patrick Show” and he gave “odds” of Tim Tebow making the New England Patriots final roster, taking a snap, etc. People are fascinated by this info.

The problem is he wasn’t using the information entirely correctly. Odds and probability are not the same thing, and they shouldn’t be used interchangeably because it’s wrong.

The mainstream media is now catching on that gambling data and sabermetrics are meaningful and interesting to a younger audience that wants to quantify everything. But when the information isn’t used correctly it’s meaningless and possibly dangerous. Using this information can be great but only when it’s used correctly.

I talk about smart and fun gaming, and understanding (at least knowing) the math behind the games is a big part of that. Knowing the reasons why blackjack game A is better than blackjack game B is important in deciding what games you should play in a casino. It doesn’t mean we have to play those games but knowing the better game will allow you to set appropriate expectations.

Let’s look at some math terms that will help you understand the games you play in the casino. Gaming math, at its core, is simple. All casino games have a house advantage so the casino can make money. Games and individual bets can have a house advantage anywhere from 0.1% to 25%. In the short term there may be luck involved with the results in the casino but over time there’s only math.

The player at the blackjack table who makes a move against proper strategy may have an effect on one hand but over time it evens out. I discuss myths versus reality in blackjack and other games fairly often in this column.

As I mentioned, odds and probability are not the same. The biggest misconception in gaming math is that they are. Probability is the ratio, over time, of the number of times an outcome occurs to the number of times that experiment is conducted.For example if a card is randomly chosen from a deck of playing cards, the probability that it is a heart is 1/4.

Odds represent the ratio, over time, of the number of times an outcome does not occur to the number of times an outcome occurs. As it relates to gaming the true odds of an event occurring represent the payoff that would make that bet fair. Using the same example from a deck of cards, the odds against the card being hearts are 3 to 1.

A slightly more in depth example for casino gaming comes from roulette. A bet on a single number in double-zero roulette has a probability of 1/38, so to break even you would have to be paid 37 to 1. The house advantage gained by the casino is that the actual payoff when hitting a number in roulette is 35 to 1.

Using casino math correctly can help you choose the right game to play in the casino or explain why one game is smarter to play than another. Getting the terms confused will only hurt your chances at winning or playing longer.

Marc Meltzer covers Las Vegas, gambling and men’s lifestyle for various outlets. Follow Marc on twitter @eastcoastgamblr. Check out his blog at www.AC2LV.com Contact Marc at MarcMeltzer@GamingToday.com.

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